10 February 2006

Hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo being force-fed

Daily Ireland


Prisoners on hunger strike to protest their indefinite jailing without trial by the US at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are being strapped to chairs for hours a day and force-fed.
According to a report in Thursday’s New York Times, 25 special “restraint chairs” were recently shipped to Guantánamo for use against hunger striking prisoners who try to resist forced-feeding.
In a prepared statement, Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy M Martin, who is Guantánamo’s chief military spokesman, claimed the harsh measures had dramatically cut the number of striking prisoners - from 84 in December to only four this week. The nature of the camp – where the movements of any humanitarian and legal visitors are highly-restricted – makes independent verification of Martin’s statement very difficult.
News of the specialised restraint chairs at Guantánamo broke a day after the publication of a study showing that less than half of the more than 500 prisoners being held at Guantanamo committed any hostile act against the US. The report by Professor Mark Denbeaux of New Jersey’s Seton Hall University and attorney Joshua Denbeaux – who act as lawyers for some Guantánamo inmates – represents the first detailed analysis of prisoners’ backgrounds.
Based on official Defense Department data, the study shows that only 45 per cent of prisoners were deemed to have engaged in hostile action against the US or its coalition allies. Among the definitions of what constituted a hostile act, was fleeing from a camp that US jets and artillery were bombing.
The US has repeatedly rebuffed criticism of its actions at Guantánamo by saying that the inmates are the “the worst of the worst” of America’s enemies. However, the study found that just eight per cent were considered to be al-Qaida fighters. Among the rest of the prisoners, 40 per cent were considered to have no clear connection with al-Qaida, and 18 per cent had no affiliation with either the Taliban or al-Qaida. Most of the prisoners have been held for more than four years, and so far about ten have been charged with any offences related to crimes violating the laws of war.
The report also highlights how few of the prisoners were actually captured by US forces themselves. In total, US troops captured five per cent of the prisoners, while 86 per cent were captured by troops of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, or Pakistani troops. According to Defense Department records, the criteria for suspecting that someone might be an al-Qaida or Taliban operative included: having possession of rifles; having used a guest house; having possession of Casio wrist watches; and the wearing of olive drab clothing.
At the time when Pakistani soldiers and Northern Alliance troops were rounding up suspects for the US, America was offering huge bounties for any al-Qaida or Taliban suspects.
Thousands of flyers were circulated across Afghanistan promising vast riches and power to prospective bounty hunters.
“Get wealth and power beyond your dreams,” read one flyer. “You can receive millions of dollars for helping the Anti-Taliban Force catch al-Qaida and Taliban murderers.
“This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life.”

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